Egan Orion has Amazon's support

Seattle City Council candidate receives chamber PAC endorsement, contributions from Amazon execs, lobbyists

Egan Orion has Amazon's support

Egan Orion has Amazon's support

The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee has raised about $800,000 to spend influencing this year’s city council election.

Among the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy’s priorities is backing a more business-friendly District 3 candidate who can unseat Socialist Alternative incumbent Kshama Sawant, a longtime, outspoken critic of Amazon’s business practices and impact on Seattle’s growth and affordability.

Amazon is a chamber member, and has also contributed $200,000 to CASE, so far, in 2019. Amazon has contributed to CASE since 2013.

CASE is endorsing District 3 challenger Egan Orion, director for Seattle PrideFest and the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce.

The full list of candidate endorsements was released on Wednesday, and announced at a news conference by Seattle Metro Chamber president and CEO Marilyn Strickland and CASE executive director Markham McIntyre.

All candidates who received endorsements did seek them out, McIntyre said. The process started with questionnaires submitted to all candidates, and 19 were invited to participate in interviews with a selection committee, which then made recommendations to the executive committee for final decisions.

McIntyre highlighted Orion’s experience with the Capitol Hill chamber, Broadway Business Improvement Area, and as a leader in the LGBTQ community.

“There were times he was very honest and upfront with the answers,” Strickland said, “and they didn’t always jive with what we wanted to do.”

Orion tells MPT the endorsement process was fairly easy.

“The process was straight-forward. I’ve been working with businesses, large and small, for nearly two decades,” Orion said, “so I think, for me, with CASE, there’s a lot of businesses that belong to the metropolitan chamber that are really interested in moving the city forward, and that’s really what my campaign is all about.”

While CASE is endorsing candidates in every Seattle district race, Orion appears to be Amazon’s candidate, based on campaign finance reports.

A participant in Seattle’s Democracy Voucher program, Orion was limited at the start of his campaign to accepting maximum contributions of $250, plus $100 in Democracy Vouchers, once qualifying for the program.

By the time CASE announced its endorsements on Wednesday, June 19, more than a dozen high-profile Amazon officials had contributed that maximum amount to Orion’s campaign.

That includes: Amazon senior vice president of global corporate affairs Jay Carney, who also served as White House press secretary during the Obama administration; Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy; David Zapolsky, vice president, general counsel and secretary; Brian Huseman, vice president of public policy; Damian Hunt, the director of state and local tax, who also serves on the Washington State Department of Revenue’s Business Advisory Council, which formed in July 2018; public policy manager Jared Axelrod; Guy Palumbo, a former Washington senator, who left the Legislature this year to take a job as Amazon’s director of public policy in Washington state; Amazon lobbyist Eileen Sullivan; Steve Hartell, director of U.S. public policy at Amazon; Tim Halladay, vice president of finance operations; John Schoettler, vice president of global real estate and facilities, who also serves on the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors; human resources senior vice president Beth Galetti; Tom Florino, senior manager of economic development; Andrew DeVore, vice president and associate general counsel; Janice Dearlove, director of global employee engagement; and energy policy head Jake Oster.

“I don’t know many Amazon folks, but I’m definitely reaching out,” Orion said. “My campaign wants support from where we can get it, and I think the tech industry is something that I champion.”

Supporting the tech industry also means supporting the tens of thousands of employees living in the community, he said.

“I think what Sawant portrays is a false narrative,” Orion said. “She says we need to choose between workers and business.”

Orion said his campaign is not accepting any corporate PAC money.

When it comes to endorsements of candidates using Democracy Vouchers, McIntyre said, CASE will engage in independent expenditures on its own and in partnership with other PACs and political groups. The amount of spending in support of each candidate is “very fluid,” he said. There is no set amount of funding to be put toward any one race, but McIntyre and Strickland made it clear they don’t want Sawant to have a third term on the council.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that Councilmember Sawant doesn’t hold much love for the business community,” McIntyre said.

Orion did not support the head tax, which would have affected the largest corporations in Seattle, including Amazon. Sawant often referred to it as the “Amazon Tax.” The revenue would have been used for developing more affordable housing and boosting homeless services.

Orion said the backlash following passage of the head tax in May 2018 showed him that voters wanted the council to be more accountable with the money it would have received and the revenue it already had. For him, it was proof that the city council is out of touch, he said, and needs to center policies on what voters want.

“I think that the rhetoric of Kshama makes people a little more cognizant of this distinction, but the metro chamber has over 2,000 small businesses in its membership,” Orion said, “and a large amount of them are in District 3. I also believe that a number of our large corporations should have a seat at the table.”

Orion has received smaller contributions from Capitol Hill and Central District business owners, such as Uncle Ike’s owner Ian Eisenberg.

“I’m a small-business guy. That’s my background, so if I’m in the pocket of anyone, let’s say it’s the small mom-and-mom shops,” Orion said.

District 5 Councilmember Debora Juarez is the only incumbent being supported by CASE in this election. Strickland said Juarez was willing to listen to concerns from business owners when the employee-hours (head) tax was being considered last year, and that she asked significant questions that never were addressed.

District 1 Councilmember Lisa Herbold and at-large Councilmember Lorena González warned New York about Amazon’s impact on Seattle back in January, before the tech giant abandoned plans for a second headquarters there. CASE is backing challenger Phil Tavel.

It’s not just Amazon executives supporting Orion, but also business leaders behind companies that have benefited from Amazon’s growth in Seattle.

Ryan Bayne and Tim Ceis, partners at Ceis Bayne East (CBE) Strategic, also provided the maximum cash amount allowed to Orion’s campaign. CBE also provides public affairs and government relations guidance to Amazon, AT&T, Vulcan and the American Beverage Association. Bayne is the former vice president of policy and public affairs for the Downtown Seattle Association.

Seneca Group founder and managing director David Victor also made a maximum contribution. Seneca Group has provided development management that supports Amazon’s growth since 2006. The company contributed $5,000 to CASE this year.

With Sawant not using the Democracy Voucher program, concerned about the influx of corporate funding into the race, all candidates have been allowed to increase the maximum contribution they can accept from individuals from $250 to $500, in order to compete with her campaign, which has raised more than $160,000, so far. Orion was cleared to do so on June 18.

Orion’s campaign treasurer is Jay Petterson, and his deputy treasurer is Lora Haggard, both with Blue Wave Political Partners, LLC, a firm that deals in political fundraising for Democratic campaigns, committees and organizations. Blue Wave is also managing CASE’s PAC money. CASE has paid Blue Wave around $5,700 this year for accounting, consulting and compliance work.

Blue Wave managed a Bring Seattle Home PAC in 2018 that raised, and spent, more than $183,000 on, ironically, voter education to support the head tax. Working Washington was heavily involved in the Bring Seattle Home campaign. Working Washington criticized Monument Policy Group spokesman John Murray for leading the repeal campaign, which was boosted by $25,000 contributions from Amazon, Kroger (Fred Meyer/QFC), Albertsons, Howard S. Wright Companies, Starbucks and Vulcan.

Washington, D.C.-based Monument Policy Group has received about $37,000 from CASE for consulting work this year.

EMC Research was commissioned by CASE — for $50,000 — to conduct a survey of potential 2019 voters to gauge public opinion about the current city council.

The phone survey — conducted from Dec. 6-20, 2018 — found 52 percent of respondents favored a change in the makeup of the council while 39 percent felt it deserved credit for the progress it’s made. Fifty-two percent disapproved of the job the council is doing while 43 percent approved.

Blue Wave paid EMC Research $50,300 for polling research conducted as part of its head-tax education campaign last year.

Amazon confirmed in February it was abandoning plans to expand into the Rainier Square tower in February, 10 months after threatening to do so if the head tax wasn’t repealed. The developer of that tower, the second largest in Seattle, is Wright Runstad Associates, which has contributed $10,000 toward CASE’s effort to reshape the city council.

Amazon is now planning to expand into downtown Bellevue, which Orion said he’s fine with, because the company has run out of room to expand in Seattle. A regional expansion should be good for Amazon, Orion said, just as a regional response is needed to address the affordability and homelessness crisis. The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce is involved in designing that new regional response, McIntyre said.